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Five Times in the Past When Military Pilots Were Sent to Intercept UFOs

With the recent media hysteria brought down (pardon the pun) by what in all honesty has all the hallmarks of mundane high-altitude surveillance technology —in other words, balloons— flying over U.S. and Canadian territory (even possibly other regions further south the continent though that was never confirmed) we at The Daily Grail thought it was an excellent opportunity to recount previous episodes in decades past, in which the presence of unidentified aerial objects prompted a determinant military response to investigate these clandestine infringements over a nation’s sovereign airspace… and even attempt to shoot the objects down.

Thomas Mantell (1948)

Captain Mantell

WW2 decorated veteran Captain Thomas Francis Mantell, Jr. of the Kentucky Air National Guard (165th Fighter Squadron) has the dubious distinction of being the first recorded military casualty directly or indirectly caused by the presence of a UFO.

On January 7, 1948, at 2:30 p.m. Captain Mantell and a squadron of P-51s he was commanding were flying over Godman AFB, in Kentucky, when they were ordered to investigate the presence of a large unknown object which had been observed by base personnel approximately an hour earlier. Witnesses’ descriptions varied and while some described it as a bright disc-shaped object, others thought it was round or cone-shaped.

Accompanied by two other planes, Mantell went in pursuit of the object. After climbing to 15,000 feet his companions desisted and went back, because their planes were not equipped with oxygen. Undeterred, Mantell kept on climbing hot on the chase and at 2:45 he reported to base: “I have the object in sight above and ahead of me, and it appears to be moving at about half my speed or approximately 180 miles an hour.” Some half an hour later Mantell’s plane went into a downward spiral and crashed, not before reporting to base his observation that the UFO —an acronym not yet invented by the Air Force and popularized by the media— appeared to be metallic and of “tremendous size.”

Mantell’s death has been the subject of wild speculation over the years. While the Air Force initially attributed the crash to the pilot’s loss of consciousness due to lack of oxygen as he was foolishly chasing “the planet Venus” —a rather insulting epigraph to an experienced pilot who survived many dangerous missions in the European front during the war— UFO buffs have practically erected him into a martyr, and wonder if his demise is any evidence to the phenomenon’s intentions: Were the aliens actively hostile and shot down his plane, or were they just dispassionately indifferent as Mantell imprudently drove his primitive flying machine beyond its safety operational limits?

Skyhook balloon

In 1952, Blue Book chief Edward Ruppelt reopened Mantell’s case and concluded there was a good chance the object he died chasing was a Skyhook balloon. These high-altitude balloons were developed by the U.S. Navy to conduct atmospheric and meteorological research in late 1947, and years later they were also used by the CIA for classified missions.

Although the Skyhook theory sounds like the more parsimonious explanation for the UFO that elicited Mantell’s death, Ruppelt never managed to fully confirmed if any secret Skyhook launches had been made in early January 1948, or late December of 1947. It is also interesting to note that, according to Richard Dolan’s UFO’s and the National Security State (Vol. 1) a separate UFO sighting was made on January 7th, 1948 at Clinton Army Air Field, which is precisely where Skyhook balloons were launched at the time —were the Clinton AAF witnesses fooled by their own spy balloons, or by something else?

The Great Flying Saucer Wave over Washington, D.C. (1952)

The recent reactions to the Chinese balloon scare is nothing when compared with how the news, the public, and the government, reacted to visual and radar observations of multiple unidentified lights swarming over the United States’ capital in the summer of 1952. It is in fact no exaggeration when we say that this particular onslaught of UFO activity had ripple repercussions that lasted for decades.

As published in Dolan’s aforementioned book:

“At 11:40 pm on July 19, radar at Washington National Airport picked up a formation of seven objects near Andrews AFB, moving along at a leisurely pace of 100 to 130 mph. Before long, two of the targets suddenly accelerated and vanished off the scope within seconds. One of them apparently reached 7,000 mph. This got the attention of several controllers, especially when they learned that a second radar at the airport, as well as the radar at Andrews AFB, also picked up the objects. For six hours, between eight and ten UFOs were tracked on radar.”

The maneuvers registered by civilian and military radars baffled the operators, but the objects were also visually observed as strange orange lights dancing in the restricted airspace right above the White House and the Capitol. Logically, this fired up all the alarms at the Pentagon and a few jet fighters were scrambled to intercept, but by the time they arrived at the scene the UFOs had vanished.

In the week that followed, more sightings continued at an intense pace all over the country, several even near military installations which prompted jets to be sent out with instructions to shoot down the UFOs if they refused the order to land. On July 23, for example, a bluish-green light played cat-and-mouse with a pursuing F-94 that tracked it on its radar.

Meanwhile, President Eisenhower was personally interested in the reports and wanted a full investigation —ironic, considering nobody had bothered contacting the Air Force Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) up until then, which was in charge of project Blue Book.

As if responding to the presidential interest, the UFOs returned to D.C. on the night of July 26. First observed by the pilot and crew of a National Airlines flight —who described the object as “resembling the glow of a cigarette high above them”— the radars at Washington National Airport and Andrews once again picked up the rogue blips and tracked them continuously for nearly two hours. In a laughable effort to control the situation, members of the press were even denied access to the radar rooms.

On several occasions fighter jets were sent out to hunt down the objects, but either they vanished from the radar whenever the planes flew to their tracked position —only to reappear in an instant once the jets had gone— or the objects sped away at impossible speeds whenever the pilots tried to attain a lock on their instruments.

On July 29, 1952, the Air Force gave an infamous press conference led by Major General John Samford, Director of Air Force Intelligence. Samford tried his best to calm the nerves of D.C. citizens and restore public trust by blaming the UFOs to false radar returns caused by ‘atmospheric temperature inversions’ —a theory suggested by astronomer Donald Menzel, who would later become an arch-skeptic of the UFO phenomenon. Just how these radar inversions were able to persist for such a long period of time is not something neither Samford nor Menzel bothered to explain to the American people.

In fact, the public reaction to the UFOs seemed to be more cause of concern to the higher-ups in the Pentagon and the CIA, than the odd possibility these events could actually represent a true unknown phenomenon. Consequently, in January of the next year the CIA organized what is now known as the ‘Robertson panel’: an assembly of some of the most prominent scientific minds in the United States —Dr. J. Allen Hynek, as scientific consultant for Blue Book, was also there— to discuss “the UFO problem.”

Their conclusions: that the public interest in the subject could very well be exploited by the Soviets, who could set out a series of hoaxed events that might trigger mass hysteria and run the government’s resources thin, in trying to respond to every single one of these ‘false alarms’. It was then better to ‘re-educate’ the public into forgetting about this UFO nonsense, by launching a massive debunking program emphasizing how every single UFO sighting can be explained, with the help of the ample network of connections the CIA had among the printing press, radio, television and even Hollywood. This is the beginning of the self-sustaining dismissing attitude mainstream media adopted toward the UFO phenomenon, which has somehow diminished as of late after the publication of the New York Times article in 2017, which acknowledged the existence of secret government efforts to study UFO events (AAWSAP/AATIP).

Milton Torres (1957)

Milton Torres

In 2008 the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) continued with his campaign to declassify official UFO documents. Among the batch released that year (which are now part of the National Archives in London) was a report of a military operation in which two US fighters stationed at the Royal Air Force base at Manston, Kent, were sent down to intercept and destroy an unidentified object in May of 1957.

One of them, Milton Torres, was told after debriefing to never discuss the issue with anyone.

“In a written account, Torres described how he scrambled his F-86 D Sabre jet in calm weather from the Royal Air Force base at Manston, Kent in May 1957.

“I was only a lieutenant and very much aware of the gravity of the situation. I felt very much like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest,” he said.

“The order came to fire a salvo of rockets at the UFO. The authentication was valid and I selected 24 rockets.

“I had a lock-on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier,” he added. “The larger the airplane, the easier the lock-on. This blip almost locked itself.”

At the last moment, the object disappeared from the radar screen and the high-speed chase was called off.

He returned to base and was debriefed the next day by an unnamed man who “looked like a well-dressed IBM salesman.”

“He threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to anyone,” he said.”

After more than 50 years, the released files provided no explanation for the incident, which caused a lasting impression in Torres despite the fact he never really had any visual confirmation of the UFO. “I shall never forget it,” he told the Times. “On that night I was ordered to open fire even before I had taken off. That had never happened before.”

UFO skeptic David Clarke suggested that perhaps the American pilots were used as guinea pigs, to test out new electronic warfare equipment designed to produce “false radar returns” in the fighter jets’ systems —an explanation, by the way, which has also been invoked by others in the UFO field as a way to explain the famous Tic-Tac incidents of 2004. Just how electronic jamming could successfully produce a phantom return as clear and big as the one Torres’s radar managed to lock onto, though, is something debunkers never bother to get into details.

Dogfight over Tehran (1976)

This next incident is not only one of the most famous cases in the history of modern Ufology, but it may also represent the most compelling evidence of the complete incapacity of modern military aircraft to engage in combat with genuine anomalous objects. The direct testimony of the main witness —retired General Parviz Jafari— was gathered by Leslie Kean as part of her seminal book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.

On the night of September 18, 1976, citizens of Tehran were frightened by the circling of a star-like light flying over their nation’s capital at a low altitude. The air traffic control tower at Mehrebad Airport was alerted and the night supervisor in charge confirmed the sighting through his binoculars instead of his radar screen: a bright, colored-flashing object changing positions at about 6,000 feet high.

At around 12:30 am Iran’s Air Force Command post was alerted of the intrusion, and a Phantom F-4 II fighter jet from Shahroki air base was scrambled to investigate. Jafari was a major and a squadron commander back then, and by the time he arrived at the base the F-4 was in pursuit of the object, which was moving at the speed of sound and was too fast for the Iranian plane. The crew of the jet (the captain and his navigator) also reported that whenever they got too close to the UFO their radio started to malfunction and all their instrumentation went out —suggestive of a strong electromagnetic radiation emanating from the object.

Parviz Jafari

Eventually Jafari’s superiors ordered him to jump on a second jet to assist in the pursuit. At around 1:30 am he took off with First Lieutenant Jalal Damirian as his copilot. Meanwhile the first jet had approached the Russian border during the chase and was ordered to return.

When Jafari finally saw the UFO from his cockpit, it looked to him like a diamond-shape formation of red, green, orange, and blue lights; the lights were flashing intermittently and were so intense that no solid structure underneath them could be discerned.

In his retelling of the incident for Kean’s book, Jafari uses the typical technical jargon of military aviation, yet the narration nevertheless captures the amazement he felt when he saw the lights moved in ways that would be impossible for any conventional aircraft:

“I approached, and I got close to it, maybe seventy miles or so in a climb situation. All of a sudden, it jumped about 10 degrees to the right. In an instant! Ten degrees… and then again it jumped 10 degrees [about 6.7 miles], and then again… I had to turn 98 degrees to the right from my heading of 70 degrees, so we changed position 168 degrees toward the south of the capital city.”

It should be noted that during all this time, no radar operator in land managed to detect the UFO on their screens. Damirian’s radar on board the Phantom did pick it up, and Jafari ordered him to “break the lock and repaint it,” in order to confirm what they were picking wasn’t a ground effect of some kind or a mountain. The size of the object in their radar was “comparable to that of a 707 tanker” —meaning it was approximately 140 to 150 feet in length.

Jafari attempted to fire, but just like with the first Phantom jet their radio got garbled and their weapons system jammed. And then something happened that made the experienced pilot fear for their lives: the UFO seemed to have fired ‘something’ at them!

“Then I was startled by a round object which came out of the primary object and started coming straight toward me at a high rate of speed, almost as if it were a missile. Imagine a brightly lit moon coming out over the horizon —that’s what it looked like. I was really scared, because I thought that maybe they had launched some kind of projectile toward me. I had eight missiles on board, four operated by radar and four heat-seeking ones. The radar was locked on to the larger, diamond object, and I had to make a very fast decision as to what to do. I realized that if this moonlike, second thing was a missile, it would have some heat associated with it. So I selected an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile to fire at it.”

Jafari pulled the trigger, but his control panel went dead along with his radio. His connection with Tehran had been cut off and he had to scream in order to communicate with his co-pilot, preparing him to eject the plane in case the ‘missile’ got closer than four miles, as he frantically began evading maneuvers.

Jafari made a shallow turn to the left but the second smaller UFO kept coming dangerously close to his aircraft, until it suddenly stopped at their four-o’clock position. For a moment he lost sight of it, until he finally observed how the bright moonlike object had gently flown back to rejoin the bigger, diamond-like lights.

A few moments later a second ‘projectile’ came out and started circling them. Jafari’s fears reignited as once again he lost control of his jet’s instruments. The second moon finally moved away and his radio returned, allowing him to report to the control tower. They were instructed to come back.

As they began their approach to the military base, Jafari noticed that one of these objects was following them from their left side. Meanwhile another one was coming right straight at them on a descending trajectory. As Jafari turned left for the landing, Damirian managed to observe more details in the object’s structure, and he even saw a round dome on top of it which was dimly lit from the inside.

Before he finalized his approach to the runway Jafari got one last chance to look at the primary, diamond-shaped UFO, which had ejected another bright object that headed directly toward the ground, emanating a light so bright that Jafari could even notice the desert sand even though they were some 15 miles away.

Jafari reported the secondary object’s touchdown and was ordered to head there and investigate. As he attempted to fly above the alleged landing zone of the UFO, once again his radio broke down and his panel turned off. Before he was given a final order to come home, both he and his copilot were startled to hear an “emergency squawk” coming from that location —a ‘squawk’ is an emergency beeping tone used by aircraft in case of a crash landing. Was the UFO trying to ‘paint’ its location to someone?

The next morning Jafari and his copilot were debriefed by a room full-packed with the top brass of Iran’s military. There was even an American military advisor, Colonel Olin Mooy from the U.S. Air Force, silently taking notes on a clipboard. Next the pilots were taken to the hospital to run some tests, which discovered that their blood “was not coagulating normally.” It was nothing serious, so they got discharged.

Mooy ended up writing a classified memo carefully detailing the incident for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which was eventually declassified under the Freedom of Information Act; but not before it was sent to the NSA, the White House, and the CIA. Another document, dated October 12, 1976, by Major Colonel Roland Evans, provided an assessment of the case for the DIA. It said that “This case is a classic which meets all the criteria necessary for a valid study of the UFO phenomenon.”

Oscar Santa María Huertas (1980)

Oscar Santa María Huertas

This next incident was also included in Leslie Kean’s book, and it deserves a special attention because —unlike the objects recently taken down by modern fighter jets in the last few days— this event may represent one of the few rare occasions in which a military pilot managed to successfully fire upon a genuine UFO.

In 1980 Huertas was a young lieutenant in the Peruvian Air Force, stationed at the La Joya AFB in the region of Arequipa. In the early morning of April 11, Huertas and his squadron were scheduled for take off to perform routine maneuvers, when suddenly a chief of service arrived in a van to tell them there was some kind of balloon suspended in the air toward the end of the runway. Despite his young age Huertas was already an experienced military pilot, and was recognized by his superiors as a top aerial marksman; which is probably why on that fateful morning he was the one chosen to bring the object down.

Unlike Torres in 1957, Huertas had a crystal clear vision of the strange round object floating at an approximate altitude of 2000 feet —too low to be a meteorological balloon— about three miles away from the base, reflecting the sun as if made out of metal. Huertas took off in his Soviet-made Sukhoi-22 fighter, carefully devising an attack plan which would enable him to shoot the “balloon” in a way that would keep his weapon fire away from the base’s perimeter

“After takeoff, I made a turn to the right and reached an altitude of 8,000 feet (2,500 meters). I then positioned myself for the attack. Zeroing in on the balloon, I reached the necessary distance and shot a burst of sixty-four 30mm shells, which created a cone-shaped “wall of fire” that would normally obliterate anything in its path. Some of the projectiles deviated from the target, falling to the ground, and others hit it with precision. I thought that the balloon would then be torn open and gases would start pouring out of it. But nothing happened. It seemed as if the huge bullets were absorbed by the balloon, and it wasn’t damaged at all. Then suddenly the object began to ascend very rapidly and head away from the base.

“What’s going on here?” I thought to myself, “I have to get closer to it.”

Huertas punched the afterburners of his Sukhoi in pursuit of the object, flying at a speed of 600 mph; yet the “balloon” performed a rather un-balloon-like maneuver by matching the fighter’s speed and remaining some 1,600 feet away from him. Meanwhile Huertas was in constant communication with the base, reporting his position as well as the object’s as they both were flying over the nearby city of Camana at an altitude of 36,000 feet —something the late Thomas Mantell would have surely envied, no doubt.

“I was in full pursuit of the object, when it came to a sudden stop and forced me to veer to the side. I made a turn upward to the right and tried to position myself for another shot. Once I obtained the desired position to fire, which was approximately 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) from the object, I began closing in on it until I had it in perfect sight. I locked on the target and was ready to shoot. But just at that moment, the object made another fast climb, evading the attack. I was left underneath it; it “broke the attack.””

Huertas tried to lock and shoot the object two more times with the same result, as if the object was playing with him. His pride as a military pilot hurt by this unexplained intruder, Huertas maintained the pursuit while the UFO climbed to an altitude of 46,000 feet. He then decided to climb even higher and go supersonic at 1.2 Mach speed in an attempt to be on top of the object and prevent its evasion.

But to Huertas’s surprise, the UFO ascended once again at high speed and placed itself with his plane on a parallel position, blocking the lieutenant’s attack strategy. Both the object and the Sukhoi kept climbing to an altitude of 63,000 feet when suddenly the “balloon” once again stopped in an instant and remained stationary, something Huertas’s airplane was incapable of countering.

When he run out of fuel, the Peruvian pilot had no choice but to return to base with his tail between his legs, his powerful Soviet-made jet bested by what he and his superiors had initially mistaken for a balloon. But when he managed to get as close as 300 feet away from the object during this remarkable ‘dogfight’, Huertas realized the object had a most peculiar shape: over 35 feet in diameter, with a shiny cream-colored dome on top —“similar to a light bulb cut in half”— and a wider circular base that looked like some kind of metal.

Even though Huertas was never interrogated by US representatives, his case ended up in an official DoD document dated June 3, 1980, titled “UFO sighted in Peru” which described the incident and stated that the object remains of “unknown origin.” Whether this document has been actually read by any members of the previous or current DoD groups in charge with dealing with the modern UAP problem, is something that remains to be seen…

These five incidents, which span three decades and cover three different continents, are but a small sample of military operations in which unidentified flying objects were treated as hostile target. In most of these cases, pilots were given express orders by their superiors to destroy these unknown objects. And yet despite the fact that their airplanes turned out to be completely outmatched and at the mercy of something which seemed to display powers and capabilities far beyond the top aircraft existing at the time, all these pilots —with the exception of Mantell— managed to return home and live to tell the tale.

During the Tehran briefing in 1976, when Jafari explained to his superiors how he was unable to fire his missiles at the UFOs because his panel went out, Col. Mooy cryptically said, “You’re lucky you couldn’t fire.”

Was the American military aware in 1976 of incidents in which UFOs did end up retaliating to hostility? And is that something people in the Pentagon today are even aware of, or are they just too busy with the current ‘invasion’ of balloons and drones coming from China?

I’m not a betting man and I’ve never even been to Vegas, but one thing I would be willing to bet, judging by the evidence provided by the testimony of Torres, Jafari, Huertas and many others, is that if it can be shot down —then it was not a true UFO.

USAF: 1 / Clowns: 0

Recommended Reading:

  • UFOs and the National Security State (vol. 1 & 2); by Richard M. Dolan
  • UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record; by Leslie Kean
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